Foundations of Modern Social TheoryFinal paper Prompt #2Theeffectiveness of an argument is determined by the entirety of its components.In order for people to be convinced of something and thus end up believing itthere needs to be a full layout of all that exists regarding the argument andeven if some parts of it are strong as a whole the argument is defined by its thoroughpower.
The same is true in the science of social theory. If these theories areto be considered or used at all for any sort of deeper understanding orclarification they must indeed be solid. When looking into a theory one shouldexamine its entirety by evaluating its power, parsimony, internal consistency,interpretive insight, value relevance, rhetorical force/beauty and elegance ofargument, and its fruitfulness. Using this criteria, a theory’s effectivenessand power can be decided. Immanuel Kant is known as the founderof modern social theory. He was 18th century German philosopher whorevolutionized social theory.
Before him previous theory was derived frompeople who believed and studied the works of those before them. There was verylittle original thought and what there was he deemed ridiculous. He changed allof this by looking at life through his own perceptions and experiences and thusthe way he thought, he theorized about regardless of those before him. Histheory on the morality of man and Kantian thought as a whole is defined byuniversalism. Therein is where the power of his theory lies- it’s transcendent and applies to allaspects of life so many can use and understand it.
While a number of theoriesare quite specific in their scope and their audience this principle of moralityblankets all of that and thus understanding of the theory can help with allaspects of life rather than just a niche or abstract part as some others. Thecore of humanity and society itself relies upon the existence of some sort ofmorality or goodness in people. Without this the world would find itself in anutter state of chaos with all acting in their own good or at least not feelinga need to care for other that are not the self. Kant describes this morality asbeing built on the categorical imperative. This theory is a general principlethat he believes all people must follow in order for society to be effectiveand functional. For Kant, what hebelieves is important are the intentions of the person.
Whatever consequencesdo or could arise from the action are irrelevant to him In this way if theperson is not motivated by morality but rather a want or desire for personalgain then the action is not justified. In order for there to be justificationfor an action it must be done with morality and justice in mind. In orderhowever to assume that this can even be possible though the matter of free willmust be settled. If someone is not free to do as they wish then it is allpredestined and doesn’t matter. An issue that Kant runs into is the idea thatif the universe is governed by laws, then everything is determined already bythese laws.
The question becomes do people really have free will? He is able tojustify free will by holding morality as the center of his reasoning. As longas morality exists then there also exists some rationality. From this existenceof rationality there must be some will to rationalize. Because of this then inorder to rationalize people need freewill.
However this concept completely relies on morality. If morality is justanother law then people only have free will to the extent that the law ofmorality lets us have this will. If not people fall into being determined by apredestined morality. Emmanuel Levinas is a 20th centuryFrench philosopher The scope of thetheory he presents is just as wide as that of Kant as it deals with all ofhumanity and how it interacts with one another. Yet it can be argued, that infact the power of Levinas’stheory is even greater than that of Kant, With Levinas, he argues that what heis talking about is even more baseline than morality. While morality and ethicsin that nature are important, what Levinas sees and writes about is the thoughtthat everything comes down to the relation between a person and “the other”.This situation drives all else that can possibly happen. Kantian theory is notas deep as this because before his theory of morality can even come into playthere needs to be some interaction between a person and another.
The self canact however it pleases, yet the main interaction that the self will have willbe with “the other”. It is through the face of the other that the self can berevealed to the world of “the other”. All that is not the self is considered “theother” and thus “the other” is infinite. What strikes the self and causes adiffering reaction to that before interacting with “the other” is not that theself looks at the other and sees similarities to the self, but instead sees allthat is different. This reaction to “the other” does not restrict the free willof “the other” but instead gives the self the responsibility for “the other”.
Kant’s theory and Levinas’s theory are views that do not fall exactly in linewith one another, but as theories they can both exist in the same universe tobe pondered. Levinas is correct in hisview that his theory is more foundational than that of Kant because there needsto be this interaction Levinas describes before morality. This does not takeaway from Kant’s view of morality because it is very important and a trulyuniversal topic necessary for balance. Another way that theories should beconsidered is their parsimony. This factor is especially important in coming toconcise and strong conclusions. Kant holds this as something of high importance.He is able to take a very universal topic of morality which has many manymoving parts associated with it and is able to break it down into a very simpleidea.
There can be no bias or exceptions or rationalizations of what its rightor wrong but at the very core what is important is if the action is done withthe intent of morality. There are certain absolutes that cannot be crossedwhatever the reasoning is so that whoever is acting must do so morally. Now itmay not be as clear cut and simple as this always but there are portions of hiswriting that make this the very basic idea. The theory from Levinas is a muchmore complex and difficult one to decipher. His core concept is that ethics isthe first philosophy and from that standpoint it is concise. He is saying thatbefore there is anything else the interaction between one and the other is themain issue. Kant on one hand, is one of the most well known social theoristsand has works that while transcendent to all, are still not too challenging orcomplicated to read. However, the works of Levinas are not at all so easilyread and in fact he is much more tough to understand based off of his strangepattern of speech and confusing jargon he piles together.
This amalgam makes itquite the challenge to be able to interpret his line of reasoning as somepoints. While what he may be truly saying is not difficult in an of itself theway that he decided to write out his views make it a challenge maybeunnecessarily to piece together his ideas harming his theory. Internal consistency is a veryimportant part of how a theory holds. For example if the theory does not staytrue throughout the writings of the theorist’swork, then it is subject to fallacy and thus cannot be assumed as true. ForKant his thoughts seem to remain consistent throughout his writing. His basicpremise of morality does not change at all and he remains set on the fact thatall that he comes to must be through his own thoughts and experiences. Kantbelieves in his own theory that there should be a consistency in how peopleact- unchanging in any scenarios.
With this in mind his stays true to this ideathroughout his works. Levinas also has a consistency in his works. He maintainshow ethics is the first philosophy. He does not concern himself originally withany other problems outside of that and sticks with the idea that theinteraction with the other and seeing the face of one different from ones ownself drives an action and a will in order to help and care for that which isdifferent from the self. These theories both have this consistency in commonwhich ultimately just strengthens them. Without the consistency flaws would beopened and leave their argument vulnerable. They stay on topic and do notchange definition or their use of concepts in the middle of their works andthis is foundational in the strength in both theories.
Interpretive insight is necessary tolook into as well when looking at theories. What the person who does attempt to interpret the theory gets out of itis extremely important. If this insight that the person receives is not of ahigh level then there is almost no point in wasting time on such theories asthey do not provide anything worthwhile. For Kant there is great insight thatcan be found. Looking into the depths of human morality and understandingwhether or not a decision is the right one can be applicable to all portions oflife.
As such it is seen that in order to keep on the right pathand do the right thing one must abide by these guidelines as defined byKant. Also from Kantian ethics it can bedetermined the basis of whether or not a person is “good”. Determining thequality of a person gives great acumen into deciding the type of people totrust and associate with. His theory gives actual rules clearly stating whetheror not a person is good by their actions. This is a non biased objective way tolook at people and as such has immense value.
With Levinas, it is notnecessarily about a guideline but why humans act the certain way that they do andwhat has caused them to act this way. The basic human interaction with “theother” starts with looking into the face of another and at this moment the selfrealizes “the other” and looks upon it another way. Even if there is no verbalor nonverbal communication between the self and “the other”, the self picks upon the difference of the face and then will look upon the whole situationdifferently. Up until this point the self just knows self and acts as the selfwould. When the face of “the other” is seen, the self is not changed to become “theother” but sees a sense of responsibility and care for the other. It is analmost altruistic response to seeing another person, yet it strengthens andchanges interactions. Value relevance is key to a theory’s use and accuracy.
The idea of valuerelevance is that there is no bias by the theorist toward a certain item ormindset either due to upbringing or own personal preference. During theirinception and presentation of the theory, the theorist should attempt to stayneutral and objective in their ideas. Now, it is quite natural that whateverthey theorize about is of some personal interest to the theorist.
Thisoccurrence is quite natural and makes a lot of logical sense. It seems almostself evident, but people think about what they are interested in. Critical tovalue relevance is staying neutral and not letting the self sway away fromobjectivity.
Kantian theory it seems revolves a great deal around the idea ofbeing without bias in all decisions. It is predicated on acting in the rightand moral way. There are certain absolutes that cannot and should not be goneagainst for any reason. With this bering the case, Kant has nothing swaying himtoward this ideology but rather is set on establishing principles of moralityand justice. Levinas on the other hand spends some of his works criticizingothers for their own biases. Influenced by the works of both Heidegger andHusserl he has gripes with both of them for bringing in their own personalbiases to their theories tainting them. With that in his own works he seeks tokeep this bias out and focus on pure theory.
In this way he has been able tostay neutral and keep a value to his theories. Both of these theorists state aconscious distaste of those who allow biases to come into their works and as aresult do what they can to keep their own out of it. Both of their theories innature do not allow for the presence of a bias with Kant hoping for moralityand Levinas a care for the other even though there is a confusion and adisturbance by the face of the other. Again by holding to this principle bothof the theories are strengthened. As Rhetorical force both of thesepieces are strong in their own right. Kant’s theories havebeen able to hold up the hundreds of years since he has been dead. He makesvery clear cut arguments that in which he explains his necessary rational stepsto the conclusions he makes. Yet he is by no means infallible as there aredefinitely some holes that can be pointed to in his arguments.
For example abig issue is the fact that it is not possible to apply reason to all scenariosand that sometimes there needs to be judgement in certain cases. When there aretwo situations it does not help to decide what do to with the lesser of twoevils. Kantian theory would say to do what is moral and would let societycontinue to run however there can be scenarios in which this does not totallyapply and as such there are some issues with Kant. Levinas does not seem tohave these glaring errors that appear in Kant’s work.
Levinas as one inspiredby the works of the Nazi Heidegger, fixes and clarifies the errors thatHeidegger falls into and that allows him to have these views. In this case withHeidegger he falls into this trap of fearing and trying to push away the “they”as he calls it. To Heidegger the “they” is a way that the world is but notbased on my own accord but based on the views of “the other”. “The other” decidesthe they. Yet, for Levinas he sees the view of the “they” as too focused andrather does not equate the other with the “they”. In this case this is wherethe fundamentals of his nazi views can be found by worrying too much about thethey. Using this he is able to carve and argument that in fact the baseinteraction with the other is what all life revolves around.
The fruitfulness of a theory speaksgreatly to the impact its implementation and further research will have. In thecase of Kant using this theory would create a general sense of morality thatextends to all peoples and does not make any biases for anyone due to racegender or creed. It would additionally create a model for the quality of aperson and rather than leaving it up to a guess or estimation, according toKant one could just look at the motivation for actions and based upon that aperson’s true worth can be found andestablished. As such a broad and wide ranging a topic as morality is the theorywould lead to deeper looks at peoples motivations for actions. It would makeclear the lines of right and wrong and help those to make decisions that mightbe stuck otherwise. The new research it could lead to is endless as even Kanthimself claims that people can only choose what they do so long as they actwithin the laws of morality. People are unable to work outside of that andstill do what they would please to do.
Since Kant there has been such researchthat has been compounded on top of his ideas. Kantian ethics is a huge studythat many people spend their lives on. Most philosophers after him have beenimpacted by his own works and if they do not base their own theories directlyoff of him, he has an impact on the way that they see morality. Levinas’s workis not as fruitful, but still creates new research into what makes up theother.
Living in a world where it is not just the self causes us to reactdifferently to that which we can not experience as we experience the self thatwe know and can control. Levinas’s work has not been able to strike up the sameinterest and theorizing behind it as Kant’s has. One possible reason for thisis that the morality issue is something that people deal with more often andare more interested in.
Also with Kant’s theory it spreads out to such farreaching aspects. The issue of morality is so strange to many because it is nota physical object and no one can quite understand what it is yet without it theworld would not be able to function without some sort of chaos occurring. As aresult this has been dissected by many before and after Kant but as a resultfrom his own theories countless thinking and theorizing has been done. WhileLevinas is indeed important his work is not as influential and well regarded asthe of Kant though since they do not directly compete with each other and theyare separated by a great deal of time Levinas does not fall behind the shadowof Kant. Theories are able to hold truths inthem that allow for others to use them for their own gain and to betterunderstand how people and are world work. Breaking down these theories allowsfor the determination of whether or not the theory has any value in it orwhether it has been flawed in any way. Through this evaluation of both Kant’s and Levinas’s theories it can bedetermined how both have great influence and scope in the lives of all peopleliving in the world. Both deal with very broad and universal topic that shapethe way humans live with one another.
Yet the simplicity and universality ofKant’s theory creates more general interest in his thoughts compared to Levinaswho speaks on less known or pondered ideas. That said, what Levinas does bringto his theories is quite strong. In fact the basis of his theory could beargued to be much stronger than that which Kant speaks of because his theory cannotapply the same in all circumstances like a general principle of morality needsto.
With that said both theories have great intellectual power and stir up manyideas surrounding them. Their arguments are concise and though both have theirdownsides are overall sturdy and can be used. Through this continuation of knowledge society can understand more aboutitself and leads to a more successful and comprehensible entity.